Tacoma billboard battle resumes today

Tacoma City Council is scheduled today discuss the six-month moratorium on billboards that it approved on May 17.

The decision implemented a temporary ban on constructing new billboards and modifying existing billboards within the city limits, and was the latest chapter of an issue that has dated back to 1997, when the city approved a billboard ordinance aimed to do away with what the city determined to be the biggest, ugliest, and most disruptive billboards by Aug. 1, 2007. A decade later and shortly before the ordinance went into effect, Clear Channel sued the City of Tacoma and claimed its rights to free speech were violated. Last year, City Council agreed to a settlement with Clear Channel that allowed 38 new digital billboards to be built in exchange for removing 253 existing billboards and relinquishing the permits for 169 other billboards. Tacoma’s planning commission, however, received overwhelming input from Tacoma residents who opposed the agreement and urged the city to stand by its original billboard ordinance. The moratorium approved last month gave the planning commission and city council more time to study the issue. It also appeared to jeopardize the agreement reached by Clear Channel and the City of Tacoma last year.

Today at noon, members of Tacoma’s planning commission are scheduled to update city councilmembers on comments received during a public hearing June 1 and its recommendations on the moratorium, which include “retaining the moratorium, clarifying its effect on the maintenance of existing billboards, and examining its implication on billboard relocation permits.” The planning commission will discuss these recommendations today 12 p.m. at Tacoma Municipal Building North, 733 Market St., Room 16. A preview of today’s presentation was included in Tacoma City Manager’s weekly report to City Councilmembers on Thurs., June 9 ( http://cms.cityoftacoma.org/cityclerk/Files/CityCouncil/CMOWeeklyReport/2011/WklyReport20110609.pdf ). According to the planning commission’s Power Point presentation, approximately 95 per cent of public testimony opposed digital billboards due to “aesthetic concerns (too large, too tall, too many), safety concerns (driver distraction), special receiving areas contrary to zoning, not supported by the Comprehensive Plan, light pollution and energy use, and opposition to the settlement agreement.”

Other highlighted bullet points from the presentation include:

City of Tacoma Planning Commission Recommendations

— Prohibit digital billboards;

— Retain amortization (consider extension if needed to achieve adequate compensation);

— Retain prohibition of new billboards;

— Continue to allow relocation only to commercial/industrial zones;

— Address digital on-premises signs;

City of Tacoma Planning Commission Code Recommendations

I. Revise Definitions

— “Billboard” should be defined in relation to size and location, rather than content;

— “Digital” and “standard” billboards should be differentiated;

— “Off-premises sign” should pertain to location rather than commercial content;

— “Sign” should use a widely-accepted definition;

II. Add reference to Federal/State laws

III. Strengthen aesthetic and landscaping requirements

— Limit of two faces per structure;

— Billboards must be back to back and within five degrees of perpendicular to roadway;

— Clearer language about maintenance;

— Require landscaping when base of structure is visible from sidewalk or street;

IV. Simplify dispersal

— Existing code has three separate criteria:

(a.) Limit of 4 faces/2 structures per 1,000 feet;

(b.) Minimum 300 linear feet of zoning allowing billboards per face;

(c.) Opposite side of street zoned for billboards;

— Recommended measurement is 500-foot radius between billboard faces not on the same structure;

V. Modify Buffering

— Expand buffer from 250 to 300 feet from residential and other sensitive uses/areas;

— Add mixed-use districts to sensitive areas;

— Add conservation districts to sensitive areas;

— Clarify school buffer applies only to pre-K through high school;

VI. Revise nonconforming section for billboards

— Change threshold levels for removal of nonconforming billboards, to be consistent with other sections of the code;

(a.) Substantial alteration (200%+) requires all nonconforming billboards to be removed;

(b.) Expansion or remodel (50%+) requires removal of an attached billboard;

— Delete prohibition on new signage at site with a nonconforming billboard, without its removal;

— Remove requirement for a concomitant agreement if nonconforming billboard remains;

(a.) Burden was on prospective business owners and a disincentive to improvements;

“In summary, the Commission recommends retaining the moratorium for at least six months,” wrote Ryan Petty, director of the city’s community and economic development department, in a June 7, 2011 letter to City Manager Eric Anderson. “The Commission also recommends that the City Council clarify the effect of the moratorium on normal and emergency maintenance of existing billboards, and that the implication of the moratorium upon the relocation permits for 169 billboards currently held by Clear Channel Outdoor be further analyzed.”

City Council is scheduled to hold two public hearings — one on June 21 and another on July 19 — and discuss the testimony received from those hearings during a study session on July 26.

Audio from today’s noon study session will be broadcast live on TV Tacoma and on http://www.tvtacoma.com . On-demand audio archives are available on the Web within 24 hours of the meeting at http://www.tvtacoma.com .

For a copy of the Power Point presentation (and other supporting documents) that will be discussed during today’s noon study session, click here — http://cms.cityoftacoma.org/cityclerk/Files/CityCouncil/CMOWeeklyReport/2011/WklyReport20110609.pdf (pages 7 – 28).

For more information about the billboard moratorium, visit http://www.cityoftacoma.org/Page.aspx?hid=16719 .

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Tacoma billboard moratorium meeting June 1 — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1983343&more=0

Tacoma approves temporary billboard moratorium — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1978007&more=0

Tacoma City Council to consider temporary billboard moratorium — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1975236&more=0

3 public meetings will examine electronic billboards — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1934775&more=0

Tacoma billboard regulations workshop Jan. 31 — http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=1912278&more=0